Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a three-part series in which the author tells of her arrest and her time in Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Eagleville, Pa. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Here there are women who have to decide between prison and motherhood. They come in pregnant and find out they are sentenced to 11 months. They usually get an abortion. Other women write letters to judges, pleading with them to keep their kids from being adopted because they will be released in two months. Women find out their husbands ran off with their money and have new girlfriends. There is a woman here who witnessed the death of her beloved and was locked up the same night, unable to attend the funeral. There are women who were told they were being released but have been sitting here for weeks, losing hope. Sadness. Wall-to-wall sadness.
The women are opening their plastic commissary bags. I am trying my damnedest to bury myself in a book. I am trying to keep from crying and raging. All they do is offer me sweets.
There’s a pinochle game going on at the far end of the room; other than that, everyone else is pretty much in their beds, winding down. All of a sudden, the women in the room begin scrambling about. I see women shoving things in their bras and underwear. I’m confused and alarmed. I see a group of guards ascend the stairs, carrying large bins. We are ordered to exit the room and are frisked, one at a time. I’m worried about the ladies who had stuffed things. I’m barely clothed. I don’t own anything worth hiding. We sit downstairs in the day room while they ransack our cells. We return to find a disaster area. One really nice woman is written up for having a tear in her blanket, which is major bullshit because it is a county blanket, provided by the facility. They find pills in one girl’s belongings. She is sent to the hole.
Today our room is devoid of toilet paper. I have my own little stash. I am sharing it with a few people. We have been asking the guards to give us some for hours. A guard doesn’t show up until 4:30 with toilet paper.
Several women went to court today. None of them came back with good news. Some thought they were going home, only to find out that they still have months to go.
Our cell is emptying out. A new group of women is on its way. New personalities. New worries. Will they be insane? Will they steal? Will they be neat? Will they snore or stink? What was once 20 women is now 16. The bed in front of me is vacant. I stretch my legs.
It is morning. A social worker is yelling the name of a woman in my room. No one knows her by that name; everyone calls her KK. The woman refuses to talk. This is peculiar. A social worker usually brings positive news. KK won’t get up. She says she doesn’t feel like it.
The bunkie below me is a true bitch. She explains something to me in a very rude way. She always caps it off by saying, “I’m not trying to be a bitch.” On the street, I would react differently. Here, there are so many things to consider. My silence prompts a friend of mine to speak up and say, “You are a bitch.”
The rude woman replies, “I don’t think it’s being a bitch; I think I’m being honest.”
Krystina sticks to her guns.
“No. You’re a bitch.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I say.
“Why doesn’t it matter?” my bunkie asks.
“Because you being an asshole had no effect on me,” I say. “I took no loss. I asked a question and you answered it, which was all I wanted. How you chose to dress up your response was totally up to you.”
No one said a word.
In a free setting, I would have said something like “Bitch, who do you think you are talking to?!” I would have demanded respect. But she has issues. She needs love and kindness, not a snappy, six-foot black girl, which is probably what she expected.
I’m listening to a woman explain why she doesn’t want to go home. Her husband is a drunk. He has run her family business into the ground. She’s a felon, so now she can’t get a business loan or a decent job. Her parents won’t talk to her. Her husband has power of attorney. He has her money and no interest in a divorce.
I want to go home. I can’t stop thinking about it. I want to text and talk with my loved ones. I’m aching for familiarity. I have to maintain a stoic expression. People ask, “What’s wrong?” I answer, “Nothing.” Translation: “You wouldn’t understand,” or worse, “I don’t want to tell you because it’s redundant.” Anyone who is here and who is loved wants to get back to that love.
I’m around at least six women at a time at minimum. There is rarely silence. It bothers some women to be silent. They have to keep the noise going. I can’t understand that need. The only conclusion I can draw is that the effect of silence makes you think. It makes you remember things. It may make you regret things. A person looking to avoid any of that may wish to keep talking, whether it makes sense or not.
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